PAHLAD RAMSURRUN 

After leaving Royal College Curepipe, the young Seewoosagur Ramgoolam worked as a clerk in the Treasury Department, but the life of a civil servant did not satisfy his ambition to serve others. Hence, he left for London in 1921 to pursue medical studies. His brother, Ramlall Ramlochan, a forward-looking man, who had become a prosperous planter paid for his travel and was responsible to bear the expenditure for his higher studies in London.

While studying at the Royal College, young Ramgoolam came under the spell of Reverend Fowler and became an addict of studying history, literature, poetry, plays of Shakespeare and classical novels of great British writers. As such, on reaching London, he fell in love with the British Capital and the British culture. There, he felt the sense of being free, he experienced liberty all around, witnessed the freedom of the press and living in the midst of a mix of people of all sorts, thrilled his imagination.

He states in his autobiography, “Our Struggles – 20th Century Mauritius”- ‘During my first six months in London, I stayed at the Indian student ‘s Association which offer welcome and hospitality to Indian students from whichever country they might be. I must say that I felt immensely happy in the company of Indian students as for all practical purposes I too was an Indian in appearance, culture and upbringing. And as an Indian from outside India I was greatly welcomed there’.

Student Seewoosagur Ramgoolam in London
in 1926 with Deeraj Seetulsingh
Source: “Indradhanush”

He went on, “During this period, I was conscious of an inner conflict with attraction of London, British culture, education and liberalism on the one side, and the call of my blood and my involvement with deeply nationalistic Indian students on the other. London thus was for me a rich melting-pot and a treasure house of learning. A vast new world opened before my wondering gaze that enriched my life. The many students of different backgrounds and nationalities I met helped me to develop a cosmopolitan outlook. I understood the principle of unity of mankind and brotherhood of man. This universalism was to grow with the years and later determined the open-door foreign policy of Mauritius; the building of links of friendship with all the countries of the world”.

In parallel line with his medical studies, he became an assiduous reader of newspapers and magazines. He spent many hours, days, weeks, months, and years in public libraries and the British museum. As a lover of English Language and literature he avidly listened to the literary and cultural programmes of the BBC, attended literary functions and established contacts with his favourite contemporary writers and poets like George Bernard Shaw, Galsworthy, Arnold Bennet, G. K. Chesterton and most particularly T. S. Elliot. English literature had great impact on young Ramgoolam for he has said – “It has helped me to acquire a wider, deeper perception of life. Literature, both in its creative and critical aspects have also sharpened my awareness of fellow human being. It has served me like a torch, illuminating the inner most recesses of human personality and widening my sympathy of man in all his dimensions. My interest in literature amounts to a commitment. I believe in literature as a vehicle for expressing man’s urge for freedom, justice and progress”.

In 1924 he became the president of the London branch of the Indian National Congress and so he was involved in the intricacies of Indian politics. As a close associate of Sidhanand Sinha he worked for hours with selfless devotion to the great cause of India’s liberation. At one time the Indian National Congress was very powerful in London and the British Government was all the time trying to suppress the freedom movement within London and finally the association was disbanded.

Then, the Indian Students’ Central Association situated at Knightsbridge in West of London was founded and Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became one of its founder members. This association reckoned about two to three thousand members in London. It had branches in Berlin, Paris, Italy and Edinburgh. Besides, India House was the nerve Centre of Indian politics and working there, Ramgoolam was in the forefront of the battle in welcoming to London, distinguished Indians including Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subash Chandra Bose and others. It held public receptions for them. A particular important event was the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi to attend the Round Table Conference, which was to decide the fate of the Indian Struggle for Independence.

Wave of Nationalism in Mauritius

But then a wave of Indian Nationalism was also experienced in Mauritius in 1920’s through the works of the Arya Samaj, Manilal Doctor, Pandit Cashinath Kistoe, Pt. Atmaram Vishwanath and R. K. Boodhun, the first Indo-Mauritian Barrister and a few others. Moreover, the news of the Indian National Struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Lala Lajpat Rai in the Indian continent was echoed in Indo- Mauritian papers like the Mauritius Indian Times, the Mauritius Mitra, and the Mauritius Arya Patrika.

The year 1925 was historic for various reasons for Mauritian Indians. Several events took place that had great impact on the evolution of the Indo- Mauritians in this country. In the context of Swami Dayanand Saraswati’s birth centenary celebrations that was held in February 1925, Mehta Jaimini was invited to attend the function. Later Maharaj Kanwar Singh came to inquire into the situations of the Indentured workers. And lastly, a historic message from the President of Hindu Maha Sabha of India and a prominent member of the Indian National Congress, Lala Lajpat Rai, the lion of Punjabwas published in Mauritius Mitra, asking the Mauritian- Indian voters to vote for only the Indian candidates in the coming January 1926 general elections. All the above events resulted in the election of Dunputh Lallah and Rajcoomar Gujadhur to sit in the Government council for the first time in the history of Mauritius. 

The defeated candidate at Flacq, Montocchio, a big planter and a powerful member of the Oligarchy, was infuriated and Ramgoolam’s brother, Ramlall’s 450-acre land was confiscated at Circonstance as he could not immediately pay back the debt of fifty thousand rupees he owned. No bank came to his help. Moreover, one night, his house was ransacked, and all the property deeds were stolen. As such, the ruined brother Ramlall Ramlochan stopped sending money to Ramgoolam as from 1926 and so the latter had to give up his medical studies and was stranded in London. In his difficult days Ramgoolam tried to earn some money and wrote articles and letters in the Times, Daily Herald and Morning Post.

But Ramgoolam was a man made of a different mettle and he had more than one string to his bow. Being a lover of books, he joined the PEN club, which had been just formed in London. This broadened his literary slant and brought him into contact with John Galsworthy, who was the first president of club, H.G.Wells and others. He was also an active member of the Student Union of the Y.M.C.A.

Pratab Sinha, a contemporary Indian student of Ramgoolam in London has said in an article entitled ‘Ramgoolam’s participation in the struggle for India’s Independence’- “It was in one of our students’ gathering at the Indian Student Union in Grower Street that I met Ramgoolam. I can see the image floating before my eyes. He wore an indigo blue suit, which almost became his uniform. There was a burning desire in him to be in our group as he was so much in tune with our thoughts and ideas. Ramgoolam took a leading role in the affairs of India. I could unhesitatingly say that I had always entertained high hopes about his idealism, sincerity, his sense of dedication and somehow, I always felt that one day he would rise to an eminent position and guide his country on the path of progress and development. Ramgoolam was always with us. We could count on his help in many of our deliberations and debates. He would come out at the right moment with his support; his observations were timely and to the point; it showed that he had a good grasp of things and yet at the meeting he used to look as if he was not observing anything”.

 

TO BE CONTINUED